HMS Penelope Malta Operations DSM Group

The Distinguished Service Medal group awarded to P/O Frank Chaplin was sold in Warwick and Warwick’s 15th November 2006 public auction sale, where it realised £2,530.

P/O Chaplin was assistant officer of quarters, four inch guns, on H.M.S.Penelope, which came under attack in the Grand Harbour, Malta, on March 26th 1942. His recommendation for immediate award of the Distinguished Service Medal reads:

“For courage, coolness and determination in engaging enemy aircraft in the face of heavy air attacks on the Grand Harbour, Malta on 26th March, 1942. Displayed great courage and coolness throughout the intensive attacks. Showed a fine example of devotion to duty and tireless energy”.


The commanding officer’s report reads:

“During the very heavy air attacks on Malta Harbour on March 26th, there were many calls on the ship’s company of H.M.S. Penelope, many jobs were done or attempted on the initiative of individual officers and men and the full story would make a small book. All jobs were done to the accompaniment of falling bombs and shrapnel.
Throughout the day the ship was in frequent action with enemy aircraft, firing turrets as well as anti-aircraft armament. Considerable risk was accepted in sending so many hands out of the ship, and it was fortunate that most of them had returned on board in time to deal with the damage caused by near misses, when the ship was obviously the centre of the target in the last and heaviest raid of the day. During the first raid at midday, I was personally at a conference in the office of the Vice Admiral, Malta. The steps taken in my absence by the Executive Officer, Commander J. W. Grant R.M., show the outstanding initiative, leadership and sound judgment, which he possesses…

First Air Raid at 1240

Raid in two waves. First wave: Talabot (ammunition ship) hit, near miss on Plumleaf. Several bombs close to Penelope. Second wave: direct hits on Plumleaf and Talabot.
Plumleaf. Heavy list to starboard, stern down and drifting out, fire amidships. Danger of her stern swinging out and ship blocking the creek; also fire danger to Penelope.
Parties sent in pulling cutter, starboard whaler and skiff (only available boats). Dockyard cutter manned by Marines and sent to fight the fire. The parties got wires in aft, closed scuttles, plugged holes, assisted shoring up. secured tug to push stern in and extinguished the fire.
Talabot. Telephoned for dockyard fire float. Sent motor cutter to Talabot. Lieutenant K.I. Hamilton R.N. took charge of tug Ancient (tug master at conference with the Vice Admiral, Malta), and went to Talabot to fight the fire. Mr G.E. Thomas, Schoolmaster, R.N. went as mate with four ratings from Penelope, after collecting most of the Maltese crew from the shelter… Master-at-arms, J.H. Prior, ran to Sheer Bastion, found fire float with steamboat alongside. The crews were in the shelter. He fetched the crews, obtained volunteers from ratings in the shelter, and (after consulting a Commander, R.N., who arrived on the jetty), sent a Mechanician (from Penelope) and six more volunteers from ships’ companies taking shelter. A Petty Officer and nine Seamen later sent to reinforce Lieutenant Hamilton. Fire very nearly under control when near misses stopped ancient pumps. Fire then got hold, ammunition in danger, and Talabot had to be abandoned. On receipt of the Vice Admiral, Malta’s signal to prepare to scuttle Talabot, Lieutenant D.A. Copperwheat R.N. and nine torpedo ratings sent with charges to the Talabot where they found Lieutenant-Commander R.J. Knott R.N.R. The ammunition had already started to explode and, in this dangerous job, Lieutenant Copperwheat showed courage of a high order and inspiring leadership. The fire prevented the placing of the charges inside the ship and they had to be slung against the ship’s side. Lieutenant Copperwheat accepted the risk of exploding them himself, placing the rest of his party under cover. [Lieutenant Copperwheat was awarded the George Cross]. The Talabot was successfully scuttled and the danger to the harbour and Valletta averted…

Second Air Raid

Ju. 87s and Ju. 88s attacked ships in French Creek at about 1650. Penelope near-missed by heavy bomb between port bow and wharf. Nearly all compartments below the lower deck between 26 and 47 stations flooded. “A” and “B” Turrets out of action.

Third Air Raid

While damage control action was being taken, a further heavy raid took place, Penelope clearly being the target. Many bombs close, one stick of three heavy bombs passed over ship and hit Legion at Boiler Wharf. Legion sank rapidly and boats were sent to her. Penelope damaged aft. Captain’s Store, after Provision Room and No. 4 Breaker Room flooded.

H.M.S. Penelope damaged by near misses at Hamilton Wharf

The events on March 26th, when Ju.87s were employed for the first time on the Grand Harbour area…Briefly summed up, H.M.S. Penelope, whilst lying at Hamilton Wharf (bows south) was damaged forward and aft by near misses, causing the flooding of all compartments below the two foremost mess decks and a number of compartments aft, and also putting “A” and “B” Turrets out of action. The forward near miss lifted all the decks forward, resulting in the straining of most of the watertight doors. The after near miss caused severe blast damage to the after superstructure, waist screens and watertight doors.”

During this period H.M.S. Penelope fired 6,500 rounds of 4-inch ammunition and she earned the nickname “H.M.S. Pepperpot” due to the over 2,000 splinter holes in her superstructure.